The Sheik (Chapter 2, page 1 of 22)


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Chapter 2

The promised send-off had been enthusiastic. The arrangements for the
trip had been perfect; there had been no hitch anywhere. The guide,
Mustafa Ali, appeared capable and efficient, effacing himself when not
wanted and replying with courteous dignity when spoken to. The day had
been full of interest, and the long, hot ride had for Diana been the
height of physical enjoyment. They had reached the oasis where the
first night was to be passed an hour before, and found the camp already
established, tents pitched, and everything so ordered that Sir Aubrey
could find nothing to criticise; even Stephens, his servant, who had
travelled with him since Diana was a baby, and who was as critical as
his master on the subject of camps, had no fault to find.

Diana glanced about her little travelling tent with complete content.
It was much smaller than the ones to which she had always been
accustomed, ridiculously so compared with the large one she had had in
India the previous year, with its separate bath--and dressing-rooms.
Servants, too, had swarmed in India. Here service promised to be
inadequate, but it had been her whim on this tour to dispense with the
elaborate arrangements that Sir Aubrey cultivated and to try
comparative roughing it. The narrow camp cot, the tin bath, the little
folding table and her two suit-cases seemed to take up all the
available space. But she laughed at the inconvenience, though she had
drenched her bed with splashing, and the soap had found its way into
the toe of one of her long boots. She had changed from her riding
clothes into a dress of clinging jade-green silk, swinging short above
her slender ankles, the neck cut low, revealing the gleaming white of
her soft, girlish bosom. She came out of the tent and stood a moment
exchanging an amused smile with Stephens, who was hovering near
dubiously, one eye on her and the other on his master. She was late,
and Sir Aubrey liked his meals punctually. The baronet was lounging in
one deck-chair with his feet on another.

Diana wagged an admonishing forefinger. "Fly, Stephens, and fetch the
soup! If it is cold there will be a riot." She walked to the edge of
the canvas cloth that had been thrown down in front of the tents and
stood revelling in the scene around her, her eyes dancing with
excitement as they glanced slowly around the camp spread out over the
oasis--the clustering palm trees, the desert itself stretching away
before her in undulating sweeps, but seemingly level in the evening
light, far off to the distant hills lying like a dark smudge against
the horizon. She drew a long breath. It was the desert at last, the
desert that she felt she had been longing for all her life. She had
never known until this moment how intense the longing had been. She
felt strangely at home, as if the great, silent emptiness had been
waiting for her as she had been waiting for it, and now that she had
come it was welcoming her softly with the faint rustle of the
whispering sand, the mysterious charm of its billowy, shifting surface
that seemed beckoning to her to penetrate further and further into its
unknown obscurities.

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